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The Honolulu Police Commission announced Thursday it will interview seven candidates to become the city’s next police chief, a process that will take place behind closed doors.
Four of the seven candidates are former or current Honolulu Police Department officers. Two candidates are from outside Hawaii. Only one woman, Susan Ballard, a current HPD major, made the finalist list.
The seven finalists include Thomas Aiu, a former special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Susan Ballard, an HPD major; Kurt Kendro, a retired HPD major; Kevin Lima, a retired HPD assistant chief; Mark Lomax, retired Pennsylvania State Police major; James Lowery, a deputy police chief in the Arlington, Texas, Police Department; and Paul Putzulu, a former deputy HPD chief.
The commission unanimously decided to narrow the field of candidates from nine to seven Thursday after reviewing scores from a second round of testing that was conducted by consulting firm EB Jacobs, of Pennsylvania.
Among the tests administered by the firm were a series of self-evaluations and long-form essays about law enforcement. There were also a handful of simulations, including a press conference about a major event and a meeting with concerned neighborhood board members who had just learned about a potential scandal within the department.
The firm relied on several local “assessors” to score the candidates, including former HPD Chief Lee Donahue and former U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni.
Other assessors included Greg Gilmartin, former executive officer of the Police Commission, Bob Fishman, a former managing director for the city, Charlie Iona, who served on the Kauai Police Commission, and Mark Nakagawa, a former assistant chief for HPD.
EB Jacobs then ranked all the candidates by score. The names were kept confidential so as to not influence the commissioners when they were deciding who to cut from the group.
Here are more details about the finalists:
• Thomas Aiu is a retired special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency who was appointed as Hawaiian Airlines’ director of corporate security in 2015. He is the executive director of the Hawaii Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit founded by his late wife.
• Susan Ballard is a major in HPD’s central receiving division, which oversees the cell block. Ballard had applied to be chief in 2004. She made history then by being one of two women who were named as finalists.
• Kurt Kendro is a retired HPD major who most recently worked in District 8, which covers Kapolei and Waianae. In 1992, Kendro was named as HPD’s officer of the year. He was awarded HPD’s Silver Medal of Valor in 2016 for saving a 76-year-old woman from a burning building.
• Kevin Lima served as an assistant chief in charge of HPD’s investigative bureau under former Chief Boisse Correa. Lima was once the major of the narcotics and vice division. He retired from the department after Louis Kealoha was named chief.
• Mark Lomax, one of two mainland finalists, is a retired major from the Pennsylvania State Police. After retiring, he served as a training manager for the International Association of Chiefs of Police and was the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association.
• James Lowery is a deputy police chief of the Arlington Police Department in Texas, overseeing the city’s south district. The Arlington Police Department has has about 640 officers.
• Paul Putzulu retired from HPD as a deputy police chief. He served briefly as the interim chief in 2009 before Kealoha was selected by the commission to lead HPD. Putzulu had applied for the job at the time and was named as a finalist.
Commissioner Loretta Sheehan had some concern about narrowing the field of candidates based solely on the numbers and rankings presented by EB Jacobs. Instead, she asked if she could first read the dossiers on all nine candidates before making a decision.
Sheehan’s colleagues, however, didn’t want to delay the process any longer than necessary. There was also some worry about undermining the integrity of process, which was set up to keep the names confidential so as to avoid lobbying from outside influences.
“It’s taken us a long time to get where we’re at,” said Cha Thompson, vice-chair of the commission. “I don’t know if I would stand for any more length of time in selecting a chief.”
The selection process for a new chief has been haphazard from the start.
After approving a $250,000 cash payout for outgoing Chief Louis Kealoha, who retired after being named as the target of a federal corruption investigation, the commissioners decided to hire an outside consultant to help with vetting possible replacements. That consultant, however, would not take part in the search for applicants.
Rather than actively recruit candidates to lead the 20th-largest police department in the country, the commission placed ads in the local newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and on the job board of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The commission also had to lobby the Legislature to lift its out-of-state hiring ban for police chiefs, a move that was at odds with the statewide police union’s desire to hire from within.
As the applications rolled in the commissioners wanted to form a citizens advisory committee to help them in the selection process. At the time, Commission Chairman Max Sword said he wanted the committee to be made up of “regular people.”
But the committee quickly lost credibility when Sword recommended Beth Chapman, wife of TV personality Duane Chapman of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” fame, for the committee. There was also concern that the other nominees weren’t a true reflection of the community.
Eventually, the commissioners scrapped the committee idea and decided to do the vetting themselves with the help of their consultant.
But even that process has been fraught with vagaries.
Before the commission hired EB Jacobs to help whittle down the candidates from a field of 34, officials were in talks with another company to do the job.
The negotiations with the first company fell apart in June, however, due to unspecified disagreements about what the consultant would do for the commission. It also further delayed and amplified frustrations among some commissioners who hoped to have a new chief in place by July or August.
The problems didn’t stop there. It became increasingly clear that the commissioners didn’t have a good sense of what EB Jacobs was actually doing to grade the various candidates.
During a Sept. 6 meeting the commissioners were presented with a ranking from EB Jacobs of the 24 candidates, including those who flew to Hawaii to take a written exam.
The commissioners were not provided the names of the remaining candidates, nor were they given a copy of the test questions. They also were not allowed to read the written responses from the various applicants before choosing to narrow the field down to nine.
The commission was told that several outside groups were consulted as a part of the process, including representatives from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office, the American Civil Liberties Union and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
But the most surprising revelation — at least to Sheehan and fellow commissioner Luella Costales — was that the four people EB Jacobs use to score the applicants were all middle-aged white men with backgrounds in law enforcement.
That lack of diversity, and the fact that three of the four men were from jurisdictions in Pennsylvania, is ultimately what drove Costales to submit her resignation to Caldwell this week, just days before she was supposed to help pick the finalists.
Costales’s departure, however, didn’t cause too many complications Thursday. The commission voted 5-0 to trim the field of candidates from nine to seven.
Those finalists will now undergo background checks and psychological evaluations. They will also each go through a round of interviews with the commission, which Sword said would take place in executive session.
Sword told the media after Thursday’s meeting that the commission doesn’t expect to publicly release the full dossiers EB Jacobs prepared for each of the finalists, although he left open the possibility for providing some details, such as the candidates’ answers to essay questions.
He said the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the finalists during a Police Commission meeting Oct. 4. Members of the public can also send comments to the commission.
Sword said the commission is still on track to pick a new chief by the last week of October.
“We’re looking for the best police chief we can get for the city and county of Honolulu, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this,” Sword said.